How to Treat Cat Bites and Scratches

Cat yawning
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As much as humans interact with felines (cats), it's no wonder that cat bites are common injuries, especially in children. Treating a cat bite should always start with the safety of all involved, including the patient, the rescuer, and if possible, the cat. Mostly, the cat. At least, that's what the cat would say. The following steps can be done at home, or wherever the bite occurred.

Steps to Treat a Cat Bite

  1. Stay Safe. Secure the cat or the patient, or both. Move one away from the other. If the cat's owner is around, instruct him or her to secure the cat. If not, move the patient to a safe location. Cats may bite or scratch if frightened or their kittens are threatened, so leave them alone. Don't start any treatment until there is a reasonable expectation that the cat won't attack again.
  2. If you are not the patient, practice universal precautions and wear personal protective equipment if available.
  3. Control any bleeding by using direct pressure and elevation. Avoid using a tourniquet unless there is severe bleeding that cannot be controlled any other way. That's unlikely with a cat (unless the cat is a mountain lion). If direct pressure cannot be maintained for an extended amount of time, direct pressure can be achieved using a pressure dressing.
  4. Once the bleeding is controlled, clean the wound with soap and warm water. Clean inside the wound being sure to rinse away all the soap, or it will cause irritation later. Any regular soap will do. There's no reason to use any antibacterial or antiseptic soap.
  5. Cover the wound with a clean, dry dressing. You can put antibiotic ointment on the bite before covering, but that is not necessary.

When to See the Doctor

Regardless of how severe you think the bite is, always consult a physician right away. The wound may need stitches. A doctor should always evaluate injuries on the face or hands because of the likelihood of scarring and potential loss of function.

Since they are often deep, cat bites and scratches are of particular concern for infection.

Watch for these signs of infection:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Heat
  • Oozing pus

Risk of Rabies

Any unidentified cat runs the risk of carrying rabies. If the cat cannot be identified or the owner cannot show proof of rabies vaccination, the patient must seek medical attention. Rabies is always fatal to humans if not treated.

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